How many books have you read and just completely forgotten and how many times have you thought "I'm not even going to bother reading" because you didn't even finish that last book and reading and trying to remember things feels a little bit hard and pointless?
Well I find these issues come up again and again with reading, especially long books or textbooks that you need to learn something from whether that's at school for an exam or for your own self-development.
And a lot of these issues come from the fact that we read way too passively. Our eyes are doing the work but our brains aren't really engaging and we don't reflect on what we have learnt from a book, so we forget its main points. Whether you use a kindle or read a physical book we are pretty comfortable with highlighting something, saving a section or folding a page to bookmark it as we go along but once you're done with the book we often pop it onto our bookshelf and leave it at that. In my opinion when you finish a chapter or when you put the book down at the end these are the critical times for learning and activating our brains to make the most out of what you've read and to go over what you've highlighted as thought-provoking points of interest but instead we often just tend to move on to the next book and all of these learning points are lost as we're all so busy.
To combat this issue I have a personal formula that I use every single time I read a book and I wanted to share it with you today because of all the learning and productivity hacks I use this is the one that I would genuinely recommend to everyone and it's one I wished I'd started doing sooner. It's not that complicated and to make things even easier I've included links to a free google docs and notion template in the comments below if you just want to download it and so in this video I'm going to go through exactly how I use this formula, why I wish I'd started using it sooner and why I feel it helps me so much with retaining and learning more from the books that I read and allowing me to remember everything that I read.
The first part of the formula is simply about switching up how you collect together your book highlights and creating micro-summaries of each chapter or section. As we read through a book we'll naturally be drawn to thought-provoking and eye-opening information. This might be a threshold topic that suddenly unlocks our understanding of something, it might be a key fact, it might be an emotive story or it might just be a really great explanation of a unique concept that changes our perspective. Typically we'll highlight a sentence or save a kindle note or if I'm reading a physical book I'll turn over the corner of the page to help me to more easily find it again. This is natural and is pretty quick. What I'll usually do here that many people don't is to actually note down the page number or link my Kindle highlight or Readwise insight into a central summary note for that book. If you check out the template that I use I'll typically add these at the end in the section called key pages and notes. I'll usually do this at the end of each chapter or section where I'll spend a quick 10-15 mins skimming back over the chapter and linking my highlights into my note. I don't link them in as I go along so that my reading is focused and I'm not distracted. I'll then jot down a really basic micro-summary of that chapter and almost add in a stream of consciousness to really activate my brain. This might be something like some bullets with the key takeaway messages or my own personal opinion about something or linking a concept to something else that I know. For example in this summary of James Clear's Atomic Habits I've micro-summarised that the first chapter is all about compounding which is a term used mainly in finance and which is also touched on in Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This helps me to quickly activated my brain and relates a concept to prior knowledge to aid learning and avoid forgetting that information. So when I come back to this note again I'll quickly be able to jump to key points and to other books and it only takes like 15 minutes extra at the end of a book section and I'll add the info on my phone or screenshot to the central summary to save time. You can put all these bits down at the end of the note as the rest of the formula happens after you're done reading the book.
Key Learning Points
The next part of the formula is key and this is about thinking about the key learning points from the book and what you are going to takeaway after having read it. Now before I started using this formula when I used to read books I would just highlight things or fold over a page and that was it and the problem was that you just forget things with time. So I made a switch to now at the end of a book I'll review the contents page again, I'll review the notes and highlights I've made and I'll try and pull out three key learning points that I've taken away from reading the book. I'll try and challenge myself on three key learning points so that I have to really think about what the most impactful things are rather than just writing out everything but if I have genuinely learned a lot I'll add some extra lines in here too. These are usually new concepts or ideas that the book has introduced me to and I'll keep it personal so that it isn't just a generic book summary but something that I have personally learned from reading the book. So to use the example of Atomic Habits one thing I learned was that it's the daily small habits and processes that facilitate these habits which are more important to focus on than simply on goals.
Next in the formula is quotes. This is pretty self-explanatory but if there are any sentences or quotes that are referenced in the book that have inspired me or which I find motivational when I'm reading I'll add these into my summary verbatim. I find these untouched quotes really helpful in my note summary as they remind me of the style and language of the book and I might want to use them in future videos, presentations or talks where I'm quoting from the author and referencing them and by adding them down here in my template I don't then need to go digging back through the book to try and find them. Often the author has researched things in detail and you can't really get more concise or they have quoted someone else so you're building up these snapshots of really powerful quotes around the topic you are reading about. You can do this for fiction books too, if there is a really great quote or section from a fiction book make sure you write it down in a note even if you're not using the full formula and template as you would for non-fiction texts. For Atomic Habits this looks a bit like this quote from James Clear where he says: “What separates winners from losers is the system of continuous small improvements that the winners implement which help them to achieve their goal.” This is motivational and also practical as it kind of summaries what the first few chapters are all about.
Applying the Book To My Life
Part four of the formula is the most important step as it's about translating what you have learned into actionable steps which you are going to take to apply what you have learned from the book into your own life. Before I used this formula for reading I'd often identify key concepts in a book and might apply one or two to my own life but unless something really blew my mind and change my mindset I'd usually just continue about my daily life. What I make a conscious effort to do now is to relate any learning points and key takeaways from the book to my own life and consider how I'm going to apply them. Specifically I'll think how the book impacted me, what I felt and what I’ll change in my life after reading the book and I'll use specific statements to outline what I'm going to change based on what I've learned.
Every single time that i found something interesting in a book or highlightable in a book i would take a second either while i am reading or if I'm in the flow or in the zone after I'm done with the book and think about how this can be applied to a change for my life so I have to think of actively how can I apply this to me. So for example if I was reading a book about creativity and the author was talking about this famous writer who every night before he went to bed dreamed of something to look forward to the next day and this really impacted the way that he works I won't just underline this I will actively turn this into a sentence that is applicable to me.
So for example in Atomic Habits I might highlight as a learning point that "Focusing on who you want to become rather than what you want to attain is the most effective strategy to modify your behaviors." But to make this learning point personal I need to convert this highlight into something directly relevant to me rather than just a concept or story about someone else. So for example I might say that rather than setting a goal like "I need to go to the gym everyday to get in peak physical condition" which is very outcome-based I'll change this to a correct identity-based approach which would be for me to think that I’m already in peak condition therefore, as a fit person, I’ll go to the gym regularly which will then lead to continued peak performance putting identity before outcome.
This is a really important step as it puts any theory or simple passive reading into action. You'll want to practically do whatever you write down here. For example back to Atomic Habits one of the ways I applied the book to my life was that anytime I set a big goal I would break this down and look at the daily, incremental habits I would need to implement in myself to get there. Now one thing to note here is that you don't need to always stick to applying what you have learned from the book. Think of this step more like an experiment where you are field-testing field a concept prior to using it regularly. If you apply something from the book and it works great, continue to do it regularly. if it doesn't at least you tried it out.
Challenges and Exercises
Part five of the formula is an extra step that only applies to certain books such as self-development books. These books will often have exercises or practical things for the reader to do or practise which lead to a new way of thinking. These might be self-assessment exercises or a meditation exercise in a mindfulness book as examples.
In Atomic Habits James Clear suggests that the reader asks themselves a few questions when trying to change your habits:
- How can I make the habit obvious?
- What can I do to make it more appealing?
- How can I make it easier?
- How can I make it more satisfying?
So I'll jot down these questions in the exercises section of the note summary. They are kind of ways to apply what you have learned but are more specific and formulaic. Another great example is from The Power of Now where there is a self-meditation for the reader to practise focusing on the moment. This is a super helpful practical thing that I can now come back to in my note and access at anytime. If you are applying this to a textbook for studying for an exam you might want to note down any worked examples or end of chapter summary questions so that you have these all in one place.
The Reading Formula Summary
So whenever I'm done with a book I now have this kind of summary page that has all of this information on the book. I'll use Evernote but I've added a link in the comments below to a generic google docs version of the template and a Notion template too. The summary note has my key highlights and notes from the book, my key learning points, key quotes and how I'm going to apply what I've learned to my own life as well as a section with any practical exercises I can quickly jump into.
By using this formula for reading I'm able to remember pretty much everything I read and my reading becomes a lot more active than it used to be in the past. Instead of kind of rushing through books and not thinking about them I'm engaging my brain at the natural break points like the end of a chapter or the end of the book and as I'm making notes I'm actively thinking where they will fit into the template and how I might implement learning points into my life. Since starting this it has made my reading much more focused and consequently more beneficial and more enjoyable especially when reading business books or any heavy textbooks